If you look at the entire 11th chapter of Hebrews, it lists the examples of faith found in the Old Testament. In today’s reading, we are reminded of the faith of Abel, Enoch and Noah. The remainder of Chapter 11 then shares the examples of faith found in Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, the people of Egypt who passed through the Red Sea, and then concludes with abbreviated references to the kings and prophets after the exile.
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary shares the classic definition of faith as a firm belief in something for which there is no proof. This is probably the sense of the word faith that we most typically think of, especially as it relates to spiritual matters. We speak of “faith in God” meaning we believe in God though we have no scientific proof of his existence. It is this definition of faith that Paul references in Hebrews 11:1, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” Abel, Enoch, and Noah are then given as exemplars of how we are rewarded for seeking God above all else, i.e., for exhibiting faith.
However, belief in something for which there is no proof is not the type of faith relevant for today’s gospel on the Transfiguration. Peter, James, and John are witnesses to Jesus’ brilliant change and to God again proclaiming Jesus as his beloved son. They need no faith in something unseen because they experienced the transfiguration firsthand. Yet, faith is still at issue for Peter, James, and John. How?
Merriam-Webster offers an additional definition of faith as “allegiance to duty to a person: loyalty.” This aspect of faith hounds the disciples repeatedly throughout the gospels. Try as they might, they never quite seem to understand who Jesus is, the significance of his ministry, how to remain by his side, or even who should sit at his right and left hand in the kingdom to come. At the top of the mountain, they see the transfigured Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah, who represent the Law and the Prophets respectively. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and is the culmination of all foretold by the Prophets. Unfortunately, these “followers” confuse their allegiance, loyalty, and duty by proposing they build a tent to commemorate Moses and Elijah as well as Jesus. Luckily for them, neither God nor Jesus focuses on this error in allegiance. Rather, God provides the disciples with the critical insight that Jesus is His Son and even adds the exhortation that the disciples listen to Jesus. “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” Mark 9: 7 (Notice also that this exhortation builds on Jesus’ baptism where God is content to simply share with all present that Jesus is his beloved son.)
How’s that for emphasizing to those who wish to follow Christ the need for faith, aka allegiance, to the person of Jesus and only to the person of Jesus? Allegiance even above “prophecies” and “the law!”
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